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    Re: Zheng He steered by the stars?
    From: Trevor Kenchington
    Date: 2002 Nov 24, 10:34 -0400

    With apologies in advance for the lack of navigational content:
    George Huxtable wrote:
    > Well, wooden schooners with 6 or even 7 masts were built 100 years ago,
    > mostly in Maine, and had some commercial success. So a 9-masted junk
    > doesn't seem, in itself, so very improbable, if it was a large one.
    > However...
    The principles of the rig of a gaff schooner and that of a junk are
    quite different. It is no more possible to relate the likelihood of a
    junk having nine masts to the seven of the "Thomas W. Lawson" (which was
      steel-hulled, not wooden) than it is to say that no schooner could
    have seven because no ship had more than the five of "Preussen". More
    recent multi-masted junks have had small masts stepped off the
    centreline to one side or the other, where they presumably act more to
    balance the rig than to provide drive. Then consider that Zheng He's
    near-contemporaries in Europe built ships with elaborations of rigging
    that had no purpose beyond show (see, for example, the contemporary
    illustration of the ships that Henry VIII of England took when he sailed
    to the Field of the Cloth of Gold). Put all that together and a
    nine-masted junk doesn't seem so improbable at all -- however
    impracticable it may have been.
    > In the second article the author refers, uncritically, to the largest ship
    > type as being "about 151.8 metres long", (which is 498 ft) , and about 61.6
    > metres wide (202 ft). The schooner Bertha M Downes was near the limit that
    > could be constructed in wood by western technology, at 175 feet long
    > (presumably waterline), and 37 feet breadth. It seems that she could fit
    > into the "treasured ship" SIDEWAYS ON. Unlikely? Impossible!
    The practical length limit on wooden hulls built in the traditional
    Western way was a bit longer than 175 feet and "Bertha L. Downs" was
    only a small coasting freighter of her day. Besides, by the time she was
    built, 1906, it was nearly a hundred years since Seppings had revised
    the fundamentals of wooden ship construction, allowing an expansion from
    the 190 feet or so of a conventional First Rate to the 250 feet of the
    big steam battleships of the pre-armour era.
    The relevance of that limit on Western ship structures to Zheng He's
    junks has long been debated, without arriving at useful answers. Chinese
    ship construction is clearly very different from European notions of
    what constitutes a ship. It is also clear that some types of structure
    can be made as large as money and the supply of raw material will permit
    -- a semi-felxible wooden raft for example. Whether or not Chinese
    construction, modified as necessary, could produce a 500-foot hull with
    a a length-to-beam ratio of about 2, and could do such in such a way
    that that hull would hold together in ocean weather while maintaining
    some speed on the chosen heading remains an open question.
    Personally, I would be surprised if the tale has not grown considerably
    in the telling and thus I expect that Zheng He sailed in a flagship much
    smaller than 500 feet overall. But I would not label the existence of
    such a ship as "impossible".
    On the other hand, the recent claim that Zheng He and his men discovered
    just about everywhere on the planet that remained to be discovered in
    his day is not so much impossible as simply without foundation in the
    historical record. I don't claim any expertise in Chinese nautical
    history but some who do have already debunked Menzies' new book and I
    think it can be dismissed as nothing more than a way to make money off a
    gullible book-buying public.
    Trevor Kenchington
    Trevor J. Kenchington PhD                         Gadus{at}iStar.ca
    Gadus Associates,                                 Office(902) 889-9250
    R.R.#1, Musquodoboit Harbour,                     Fax   (902) 889-9251
    Nova Scotia  B0J 2L0, CANADA                      Home  (902) 889-3555
                         Science Serving the Fisheries

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